Villanova, PA (SportsNetwork.com) - Big 5 rivals mix it up on Saturday afternoon, as the Saint Joseph's Hawks make the short trip to The Pavilion to challenge the 10th-ranked Villanova Wildcats.
Saint Joseph's improved to 4-3 on Wednesday by slipping past another Big 5 foe in Temple, as the Hawks prevailed at home in a 58-56 final. It was the third win in the last four games for SJU, which returns home to entertain Loyola- Maryland on Tuesday before taking an 11-day break for finals.
Villanova is a perfect 7-0 on the young season, having recently survived its first foray into Big 5 play with an 84-70 win at La Salle on Wednesday night. The Wildcats, who have now won seven straight Big 5 matchups and already have a pair of wins over nationally-ranked foes VCU and Michigan on their resume' this season, will face a stern test on Tuesday against Illinois in New York City before returning home for another Big 5 bout against Temple.
Saint Joseph's has lost two straight and five of the last seven meetings with Villanova, and trails in the all-time series, 46-25. The Hawks have come out on the short end in each of their last four visits to The Pavilion, last winning there on Feb. 2, 2004 (74-67).
Isaiah Miles scored a career-high 20 points and DeAndre' Bembry came up with a huge block in the waning seconds that helped earn Saint Joseph's a narrow win over visiting Temple earlier this week. Bembry added 11 points and combined with Miles to grab 16 of the team's 34 rebounds, the duo also accounting for six of the its 11 assists. In all, only seven players saw action for the Hawks, who shot just 35.7 percent from the field, the worst of it coming in the second half (6-of-24) as the team nearly squandered a double-digit halftime lead.
Bembry (14.1 ppg, 6.9 rpg, 3.0 apg, 2.0 spg) leads the team in every major statistical category, and in the last four games he has upped the ante in averaging 18.2 points, 7.5 caroms, 3.0 assists and 2.2 steals. Aaron Brown (10.6 ppg) and Miles (10.1 ppg, 6.7 rpg) are the only other double-digit scorers for a SJU squad that is netting just 58.6 ppg in hitting a meager 37.7 percent of its total shots, which includes an absolutely dreadful 22.9 percent showing from 3-point range. Thankfully, the Hawks' defensive effort has been better as foes are producing just 64.1 ppg, with their long-range launches being successful only 31 percent of the time.
Villanova got off to a fast start in its recent win at La Salle, as the team shot 58 percent from the field over the initial 20 minutes to stake claim to a 47-29 halftime lead. The Wildcats kept the offensive pressure on after the break, hitting 54.5 percent of their total shots, but the Explorers also improved, actually outscoring their guests in the final frame, 41-37. In all, five players scored in double figures for VU, with Darrun Hilliard and Dylan Ennis each hitting for 15 points. The Wildcats were outscored at the foul line (26-17), and they finished even with their hosts on the glass (25-25). Fortunately, Villanova committed only nine turnovers while outscoring La Salle in the paint (36-24), off turnovers (21-7), and in bench points (24-15).
Balance continues to be the key to Villanova's early success, as the team boasts seven players who average between 8.4 and 12.9 ppg. Ennis and Hilliard are the only double-digit scorers at the moment, while Daniel Ochefu (7.9 rpg) and JayVaughn Pinkston (6.4 rpg) handle the bulk of the rebounding responsibilities. Superb ball movement in an effort to spot the open man has resulted in 111 assists (15.9 per game), and the 'Cats are on the plus side of the ledger in every important stat, including scoring (+18.4), rebounding (+4.0) and turnovers (+6.4).